Kornacki: Wolverines Look to Regroup Before NCAA Tournament

March 4, 2017

By Steve Kornacki

INDIANAPOLIS -- Kysre Gondrezick wanted it. You could see it in the face of the University of Michigan's talented, gritty freshman. She came up big in her first Big Ten Women's Basketball Tournament game, finishing with a game-high 23 points, five rebounds and three assists.

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Katelynn Flaherty (18 points) and Hallie Thome (16 points, nine rebounds) also stepped up at times in Friday night's (March 3) game with Michigan State. However, the rest of the Wolverines scored only seven points in a 74-64 loss.

Still, nobody had a great shooting night. Michigan ranked second in the conference by making 47 percent of its shots but hit just 36 percent against the Spartans. And so the third-seeded Wolverines dropped out of the tournament field because they couldn't get close to enough shots to drop.

Gondrezick ran down what went wrong for her team but took solace in one thing Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico pointed out in the postgame locker room.

"I know one thing that Coach talked about was that she admired the fight in us," said Gondrezick, "and we just had to play to the end and we just came up short."

Gondrezick noted that the team failed to "regroup" once getting behind in the second quarter and falling behind by as many as 17 points with five minutes left in the game.

So, for the fourth time in the last five years, Michigan's conference tournament run was ended by MSU, the sixth-seeded team.

Now it's about that challenge of regrouping in terms of the big picture.

The Wolverines (22-9) are expected to be in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2013, but they will do so with four losses in their last five games.

Barnes Arico, named Big Ten Coach of the Year earlier this week, was asked what she needed to do to get what had been a very good team, one ranked as high as No. 20 in the nation, back on track.

"That's a great question," said Barnes Arico, "and we're sitting as coaches and talking about that already. We lost a really tough one the other day at Penn State that we felt should have gone our way. So down the stretch here we've had the tough part of our schedule, and obviously we have to regroup from that moving forward. I think a couple of days, obviously, off will get the kids a break and get them fresh again.

"And we had a really good week of practice leading up. We felt really good about today. Michigan State's just -- it's been a real tough matchup for us. It's interesting, we get them every year we come here. It's just been a tough matchup for us. I think we gotta move forward from it. We've got to continue to work on improving. And our kids will bounce back."

Michigan never won 22 games in a regular season prior to this one, and it has tied the school single-season victory record. But if it is to set the mark and get that elusive 23rd win, which seemed almost a given three weeks ago, it will have to come on the biggest stage.

"They still have an opportunity to be a part of the best team that's ever been at Michigan," said Barnes Arico. "And I think that's really important to (seniors) Siera (Thompson) and Danielle (Williams) to leave that legacy behind. So I know that they're going to go out fighting and that we are going to regroup.

"And if we get selected, which we still feel like our total body of work will get us selected to the NCAA Tournament, it will be the first time anyone on our team has ever been in the NCAA Tournament. So, we still have a ton to play for. And I think that's really important for our kids to know, and I think they're competitors, they're fighters, and they will definitely bounce back from this."

Barnes Arico photo
Big Ten Coach of the Year Kim Barnes Arico led U-M to 22 regular-season wins, a program record.

The Wolverines will have two weeks until they play again on either March 17 or 18 at a site to be determined. The NCAA tourney brackets will be announced at 7 p.m. March 13 on ESPN.

So, there's plenty of time to address what went wrong against MSU before Michigan has its next opponent determined.

Thome and Flaherty both got into foul trouble after the archrivals battled to a 19-19 tie after one quarter. The Wolverines managed to stay within six points at halftime but couldn't regain any sense of control after that. They had a great opportunity to do that when Spartans coach Suzy Merchant, whose team had to beat Wisconsin the night before, rested four of her starters together late in the third quarter.

Why couldn't they capitalize?

"I think we got a little stagnant offensively," said Barnes Arico. "We had trouble scoring against them offensively, but then I thought during that time Hallie got a lot of great looks and a lot of great touches. She's a kid that shoots 60-something percent from the floor. And I think in this second half, if I'm correct, she was like 5-for-13, which is not typical of Hallie."

Barnes Arico had those statistics correct, and many of Thome's shots rolled off the rim.

"So we were able to get the ball inside and we went with a smaller lineup to get more offense," Barnes Arico continued. "And then (Thome) missed and we didn't get any offensive rebounds. So we never really got anything going. Hallie was getting touches. We got good looks, but we didn't make them. ... Then we weren't getting stops so we couldn't really get anything easy in transition either.

"So, a combination of a few things, but I thought there was a stretch -- I mean in the second half we really got good looks. We just didn't get them to fall. And I think part of that is the pressure of the situation. Part of that is Michigan State, for sure. They're bigger bodies. They're aggressive bodies. We were getting bumped and banged around and that definitely weighed on us for sure."

The Wolverines had 41 rebounds to the 44 by MSU, with Jillian Dunston getting 12 boards, but wore down offensively.

It was interesting that Gondrezick took 24 shots from the field but never went to the free throw line despite frequently driving to the basket and getting shots off in traffic. The Spartans made 17 of 21 free throws, while Michigan made seven of 10 attempts. That 10-point difference was the exact spread in the final score.

So, despite holding down explosive Spartans guard Tori Jankoska (4-for-12 shooting for 14 points), the Wolverines still lost.

One thing's for sure looking ahead. The Wolverines will need the entire starting lineup and a few players contributing off the bench to make any climb up the NCAA brackets. MSU's reserves had a 22-5 scoring edge, and Nicole Munger was the only Michigan player with more than three minutes coming off the bench.

The Spartans won because reserve center Jenna Allen scored 12 points in 16 minutes, and freshman forward Victoria Gaines stepped up for her college high of 18 points. Those two combined to make 12-of-17 shots by scoring down low and on short jumpers.

Nobody was truly efficient offensively for Michigan.

"I think we got great looks," said Flaherty, who made six of 18 shots. "We missed shots. Sometimes it just happens. Moving forward, we definitely need to find a way to keep scoring when that does happen. But I think we got great looks and we just couldn't knock them down today."

So, it's on to the NCAA tourney, where one more shot at getting the shots to fall awaits.

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